Luke Cage may be Harlem’s unbreakable hero, but his public recognition is both a blessing and a curse. Luke has personal problems too, as his relationship with Claire Temple starts to fall apart and his estranged father returns. Meanwhile, Mariah Dillard’s criminal empire continues to build, in a misguided attempt to become legitimate, bringing her into conflict with an old family enemy: John McIver, better known as Bushmaster. Bushmaster’s quest for vengeance against Mariah knows no bounds, as he systematically begins to take possession of her empire while bringing a turf war to Harlem. Possessing skin almost as unbreakable as Luke’s, as well as having enhanced reflexes and superior fighting skills, Bushmaster fears nobody – not even Luke Cage.
Luke’s own desire to see Mariah brought to justice forces him to become her unwilling protector from Bushmaster’s wrath. With police detective Misty Knight racing against time to build a case against both warring factions, Luke struggles to balance the concepts of law, personal justice and heroism. He may be Harlem’s hero, but what kind of hero does Harlem really need to protect it?
The first season of Luke Cage became a standout of the Marvel Netflix shows, treading similar ground to Daredevil and Jessica Jones while still making it unique. It not only showed one of Marvel’s genuine good guys in the best possible light, but every character in the show got to shine – including the city of Harlem itself. The acting was impressive, the script was tight, and the directing was exceptional.
Sadly, this season, only two out of those three factors are present.
And while two out of three isn’t bad, it also means that there are some serious flaws with this second season. Yes, the directing is still fantastic, and when combined with the acting talent on display it can elevate even the most average scene into something special. Personal conversations between characters carry genuine weight, with every statement becoming emotionally charged. The heroes are charismatic, the villains are nuanced and mostly believable, and almost everyone delivers a stellar performance. Likewise, the action scenes – while few and far between – are stunning to watch and carry tension even though the central hero seems unstoppable.
The problem is the script itself. While the central storyline continues throughout without any major mid-season subplots to break it up (unlike other Netflix shows), at times it’s dragged out to unreasonable lengths. The central story of a three-way struggle between Luke, Mariah and Bushmaster is so fascinating… but, for a show called Luke Cage, Luke himself seems painfully absent from it at all the wrong moments. For a couple of scenes, that’s fine, but by the midway point for the season, it’s tiresome.
That being said, episode 10 has to be singled out as the most perfect gift to comic book fans that the Netflix shows could have ever delivered. Yes, it’s a proper Power Man/Iron Fist team-up which feels so natural and right that it makes you wonder why they haven’t made this a series of its own already and redeems Iron Fist on screen completely. It’s fair to say that these shows have all wanted to establish themselves first before doing any crossovers and special events, but it also proves just how much the shows could benefit from being more like the comic books.
However, that’s just a one-off episode.
While it does breathe new life into the rest of the season from that point on and the script becomes more focused, it isn’t quite enough to help the whole season. Not only that, but the final scenes for the series rely too heavily on its Godfather-inspired storytelling style over common sense, leaving a slightly sour taste.
Ultimately, it’s still a solid season even if it isn’t as strong as the first. It’s binge-worthy but with high and low points scattered throughout. There’s enough drama and action to still stand above other superhero fare, but while Luke Cage Season 2 is as unbreakable as its hero there are also genuine dents in it.